Chances are good that if you’re visiting New Hampshire, you’ve heard of Mount Washington. It is the tallest peak in New England at 6,288 feet. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the most accessible. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to visit!
Mount Washington’s weather is famous for being the world’s worst. There is a year-round Observatory at the summit which houses scientists who monitor and track weather patterns. In the 1930’s, the Observatory set a world record which stands to this day as the highest wind speed not associated with a cyclone. On a windy day, this is the closest you’ll get to standing inside a tornado! If you search youtube, you’ll find many videos of the extreme weather. When scientists splash pots of boiling water in the air during the winter, it freezes to ice before it hits the ground. The wind blows them backwards as they try to walk across platforms and carries them through the air when they jump.
While the weather can be wild, it’s frequently very pleasant at the summit as well. On a clear day, the views from Mount Washington are unmatched. You can often see for over 100 miles in any direction. It truly gives you an appreciation for the beauty of New England. Everyone’s heard of overcast days, but from the heights of Mount Washington, you’ll sometimes see undercast. When there is undercast, you can look down on the valley and see the top sides of clouds like you are looking down from an airplane.
Hiking Mount Washington is a popular way to reach the peak. There are a number of Mount Washington trails, and the most common route is the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail. This trail starts at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitors Center and climbs up the bowl of Tuckerman’s Ravine. In the winter and spring, the Ravine is a hot spot for skiing. There are no chairlifts here though; if you want to ski the Ravine, you have to hike it with your gear first. The trail up Tuckerman’s Ravine is fairly steep, so some hikers decide to use the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail, which starts on the west side of Mt Washington, in Crawford Notch. This is a more gradual trail with fewer views on the way up, but more shade cover since you will be in the trees for most of the approach. Additionally, you’ll be able to stop by the Lakes of the Clouds AMC hut for a rest stop. After visiting the summit, many hikers take the Jewell Trail on the way down to form a loop, as it provides incredible views of the Notch below during the descent.
A word of caution: before embarking on a hike up Mt. Washington, be sure you are physically fit, have proper hiking gear (especially clothing and footwear) and are well aware of and prepared for the potential for changes in weather that might take place during your ascent. Each year, many hikers end up stranded, injured, or worse due to a lack of preparation. Even if it’s a sunny and beautiful day down in the valley, the weather at the top of the mountain is often radically different.
Mount Washington by Train:
If you’re looking for a way to reach the summit that’s a bit easier on the knees, the Mt. Washington Auto Road will take you there. The Auto Road offers guided van tours, where you’ll have a chance to learn about the history of the area and can enjoy the views from a passenger’s seat. Visitors can also drive themselves, though the driver will need to keep their eyes on the road, as it is a narrow, steep, and winding path. Be sure to check your brakes before making the trip, and take your time on the way down. There are many pull-offs where you can step out to enjoy the views while giving your brakes a rest. For tour and ticket options, visit the Auto Road’s website: https://mtwashingtonautoroad.com
The Cog Railway is a third way to visit the peak of Mt Washington. The train takes 45-60 minutes to reach the top, and is one of the steepest railways in the world. The train has a steam engine that makes a run in the morning, and a biodiesel engine which makes runs throughout the day. It’s a 3 hour round trip journey from bottom to top and back again. For tickets and scheduling information, visit the Cog’s website here: https://www.thecog.com/schedule-tickets/
If you prefer to stick around North Conway, you can always pay the Weather Discovery Center a visit. It’s a science museum in downtown North Conway! It will give you a direct connection to Mt Washington without needing to stray far from all of the North Conway shopping and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a place to stay while visiting the Valley, Pinkham Vacation Rentals has an option for every type and size of group, from a townhouse with access to the Saco River that sleeps 12 or a post and beam chalet that perfect for 4-6 people and allows furry family members too!